Westerly native on Irma relief mission with US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard will help re-open ports in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As Florida begins to assess the damage left behind by the major storm, one Westerly native will get a first-hand look at the devastation as he embarks on a mission to bring some much-needed help to the area.

Coast Guard LTJG Zachary Wells said that while many people often associate the Coast Guard with search and rescue, this mission – aids and navigation – is a huge part of commerce and trade. When ports are closed, according to Wells, billions of dollars are essentially left buoyed out at sea.

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The Cutter Oak set sail from Newport Sunday and is now in Virginia preparing to sail further south to Florida, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The Coast Guard is bringing nearly 140,000 pounds of equipment down to the storm-ravaged coasts of the Sunshine State to get ports and channels back to normal.

Wells said their job is to ensure relief supplies can get to Florida by sea.

“Tankers with those crucial supplies, specifically fuel and gasoline that’s a big one, so people can get in and out, and opening those ports setting those channels back to where they need to get to get supplies in and out,” Wells said.

And there are some major ports that will need some TLC, such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville.

“Each of those are big ports and each of those have to be opened individually and verified before anything can go in and out of there,” Wells explained.

Wells has been with the Coast Guard for more than two years, but this is his first mission of this kind.

“Missions like this are why we do what we do,” Wells said. “It helps out our homeland, I mean we’re under Homeland Security, so to be able to do a mission like this to help out our home country, that’s what we’re all about.”